I have memories from childhood of my mother telling me I was pretty. Beautiful even. She would repeat the sentiment to anyone who would listen. It made my self-esteem soar but I never internalized the idea of “pretty privilege” because just as my mother would compliment me, she would check any trace of vanity. By doing that, she planted the seed that would grow a sense of compassion in me as well as a conscious effort towards not being superficial when picking my relationships. That genuine quality went awry when I made it to high school and the requirements for beauty hinged on fitting in. It led me to “toning down” any outward expression of my inner beauty if a friend or acquaintance made reference to my hair, height, weight, or any other physical attribute that they saw as “desirable” or they felt I was “lucky” to have. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t ruffling the feathers of my counterparts by being too naturally pretty. I became so sensitive to it that any compliment on my looks would be dismissed and deflected with a witty observation of something that I didn’t like about myself. I was not interested in coming across as shallow.
I carried on that way all the way through college and even into young adulthood. When I look back now, I realize that it absolutely carried over into how I chose people to date or become involved with. I would settle. I’d dismiss the fact that I like taller guys (I’m 5’8) or any physical preference that I held for a possible mate to avoid having a mark in the “selfish behavior” column of my life ledger. Especially if the person had a sparkling personality or a high level of intelligence or some non-physical quality that was great. Who was I to be a jerk because someone didn’t meet a height requirement? Although I never regret the decisions I make because of the great lessons that come from them, I have to admit, that way of thinking was a bunch of nonsense and it crippled the value that I placed on my own temple not only on the outside but the inside as well. I had exiled the belief that inner and outer beauty can be mutually exclusive.
The further into adulthood I got, the more I started to envy the women around me who wore their beauty with no apologies. Full disclosure: all of my friends are beautiful women. Not just cute, but gorgeous and openly comfortable with themselves. I had tied myself up in the thought that I was unable to express that part of myself without consequence. Being married to a fairly mild mannered and quiet guy didn’t help because it just didn’t occur to him to give compliments all that often. Why would he? I did not like the shallow and I had made that clear to him early on. Too many compliments would make him guilty of that. I started having children and bought into the idea that my days of wearing anything that explicitly showcased my beauty would go against the mom code. This in the midst of close friends being cheerleaders and pointing out how good I looked postpartum. I just couldn’t accept the compliments.
The first break in that toxic thinking came as I entered the world as a newly single woman who had to come to grips with the fact that she had never truly felt desirable. I went back over my personal history trying to find the moment that things went wrong. Had some guy said something mean to me about my looks? Had a girl outwardly hated on my appearance? Nope. It was me. It was all me. I’d screwed up my own perception on the value of my outer beauty.
I realized it was bad when I started dating a guy who was very, very open and clear about what he liked about me. Especially the physical attributes. He would behave as if he was mesmerized and that he had never seen anyone like me. I just couldn’t understand why he thought that. I thought it disingenuous. I was a couple of years older than him with three kids. There was surely someone out there that had caught his attention in the same way before. Let him tell it, I stunned him. This was coming from a guy that was universally deemed as attractive so he had no trouble with the ladies and had met many. I was so uncomfortable accepting how he saw me. Then it came to me…I didn’t see myself as a stunner. This was a hard realization to process because I’d seen myself as an advocate of self-acceptance. I even preached it to a friend or two who were doubtful of their own beauty.
At that moment, I said you know what, I am fine. No caveats. I’m fine as hell. I’ll paint my nails, wear my red lipstick, wear my jewelry, blow my hair out and do me. I have a responsibility to love all parts of myself. I HAVE TO DO IT. I can’t look to anyone else to approve. I must live my life in full color because that’s what exists in my mind. Color, light, and love is what my spirit is made of so I need to reflect in my outer appearance.
So, these days you might catch me wearing my crop tops or showing my tattoos, but it’s not to make others uncomfortable. It’s to make me comfortable and to give others permission to do the same thing. One of my love languages is words of affirmation but I had to learn how to affirm myself with my own words. I write in my journal all of the things that I’m grateful for and that includes my physical beauty. I allow my conscious and intuition to move me where I should be and they don’t neglect my appearance. I feel like more of myself now than I ever have.